TRAVERSE CITY — Lily Ambrosius was just 14 when doctors found and removed some atypical moles, which can increase the risk of developing melanoma.
The fair-skinned blonde had always used sunscreen outdoors, but knew plenty of people who didn’t. And that started her wondering what would happen to them — and to others who couldn’t afford the protection.
Rather than wait to find out, Ambrosius started a nonprofit organization to bring skin cancer awareness to area residents and to distribute effective sunscreen products to families in need.
The organization, called Skin For the Future, was based in part on a survey she conducted during a special health day at the 2012 National Cherry Festival.
“We found out that those people that made $20,000 to $30,000 a year don’t wear sunscreen and (often) have cancer in their genes,” said Ambrosius, now 16 and a junior at St. Francis High School. Most at risk are children, adolescents and young adults, since the damage people see in their 50s and 60s occurs in their teens and 20s.
Now Ambrosius is working with area pediatricians, dermatologists and plastic surgeons to spread skin cancer awareness information and to raise sponsorship funds for the expensive sunscreen products.
So far she’s collected enough to buy 750 3-ounce bottles of sunscreen that will be distributed to clients of the Grand Traverse County Health Department, the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department and the Father Fred Foundation.
“I’ve done a lot of different research projects and it’s very, very rare to see somebody as motivated and excited at her level of the game,” said Traverse City surgeon Adam Smith, of Borealis Plastic Surgery, who is mentoring Ambrosius. “She’s a very extraordinary young girl. “This is her wanting to make a difference in her community and bring awareness to a problem that absolutely does exist and that to some degree has touched her personally.”